Thursday, 23 November 2017

Poster Girls–a century of art and design

Cup Final, by Anna Katrina Zinkeisen, 1934
London Transport Museum is celebrating 100 years of poster art and design by women with a major exhibition that opened on Friday 13 October. Women artists contribution to art on the underground has been largely overlooked during the 20th century but with the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI in 1918 and 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 which allowed some women the right to vote in elections it was decided that the time was right to unearth some of the visual treasures stored in the museum’s archive and put them on public display.

Epping Forest, by Nancy Smith, 1922
Frank Pick was responsible for commissioning artists to design the iconic London Transport posters during the 1920s and 1930s and this period coincided with the birth of commercial art and advertising and the emergence of graphic design. The exhibition begins with the first poster designed by a woman, Ella Coates in 1910. It portrayed a landscape with a few words of text which was typical for the time and promoted travelling to Kew Gardens by tram. The exhibition continues, more-or-less chronologically until 2015 with fascinating examples of design that reflect the social concerns of the day like the Motor Show at Olympia, Derby Day, Rugby at Twickenham, the Oxford Cambridge boat race, the summer sales, days out to the countryside including Epping Forest and the hop gardens of Kent.

Some of the artists have signed their work but others remain anonymous. What they have in common is the ability to tell a story and to evoke an atmosphere through their draughtsmanship, use of typography and colour that are not only a pleasure to look at but at the same time promoted London Underground as an optimistic and forward thinking company.

I was invited to review this exhibition by the Islington Archaeology and History Society and while I was exploring the exhibition I was very excited to see a poster designed by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis in 1936. Clifford Ellis is the only man featured in this exhibition because he and his wife Rosemary always worked as a double act and he was also the head of Bath Academy of Art until 1972 where I later studied graphic design. In addition to this Jane Strother also has a poster from 1999 in this exhibition–we were students at roughly the same time–and seeing these pieces of work reminded me of the three years I spent at this remarkable school of art.

Poster Girls–a century of art and design, 13 October to January 2019, London Transport Museum. 

Come out to play, by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1936

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